Every Friday at about 11am our porter completes one of his many weekly tasks by going to his little cubby hole, pulling out his hose (snigger) and then watering every square inch of ground around him. In total this whole process takes him about 20-30 minutes.
Not so interesting right? Well, it wouldn’t be if he was just watering the grass in the garden but I’ve NEVER seen him do that. No, what he’s actually doing is washing the pavement outside our block of apartments. Yes, that’s correct, he washes the pavement. OUTSIDE of our apartment.
I have no idea whether this is a trend that extends throughout Brazil or even the whole of São Paulo but I have definitely seen it a lot in my neighbourhood and in others that are close-by.
It has been explained to me that the reason some people do this is because in São Paulo the portion of pavement directly outside your home or business is your property and therefore your responsibility. The local government even has a webpage advising you how to maintain your pavement, although as we shall see it is debatable as to whether this page has been viewed by anyone other than myself.
To be fair, outside new buildings like ours the pavements are revered and so they remain fully tiled and resplendent in all their glistening white glory. Beautifully kept and maintained (watered), someone is even paid to look after them. Put simply, these bits of paving will be amongst the finest you’ll ever see.
And yet this watering-your-pavement business perplexes me.
Well, to start with it’s clearly a waste of water. On average São Paulo has over twice the amount of annual rainfall that we get in London (hence why the porter doesn’t water the grass) so it’s not as if they don’t get a little rinse every now and again. Last week was particularly baffling since despite a biblical rainstorm the previous night the porter still went about his routine the following morning. Today, I even saw a shop assistant owner hose down the pavement DURING a rainstorm. Efficiency at its very best.
Ok, so if a dog has left a big turd on your pavement or a student has passed by during the night and vomited everywhere I might accept that this is a special occasion that warrants the use of a hose. Otherwise, it seems a bit odd.
Most Brazilians of course cannot afford the luxury of having a porter to nurture their paving. As a result many pavement segments are left untended and become crumbling messes with footholes the size of sinks and protruding tree roots that are trap for unsuspecting ankles.
Not everyone though. Some people do try to tend to their paving although this typically only incorporates the watering aspect (“à la” our aforementioned porter), and if repairs can be afforded or bothered with then they are more often than not done in a slap-dash manner.
For example, I once saw a random crater about the size of a football open up in the middle of the pavement close to where we live. As I peered into it, it became apparent that said crater was the mouth of a seemingly infinitely dark abyss whose bottom (wherever that might be) was either the sewer or some other mystical place that lay beyond. And how was this dilemma resolved? Well, someone cemented a few bricks together into what was roughly the shape of the crater and then wedged them in and cemented over the top. Job done.
Another adverse effect of the hodge-podge, do-it-yourself nature of pavement ownership and maintenance in São Paulo is that half the time people don’t bother to level them with the rest of the surface, so walking further than a few metres can often be quite hazardous. It also makes some of the inclines steeper than your average hill in San Francisco.
Put simply, if you live in São Paulo and are disabled or have a walking impediment you’re screwed – and it’s not even as if they can get the bus instead.
But let’s finish with the cleaning-your-pavement business. I guess the main reason it perplexes me is the context in which it occurs because whilst people will think nothing of hosing down their pavements they will at the same time pay scant attention to the neglect that blights much of the rest of their city.
Undoubtedly the government needs to take a significant proportion of the blame for this, especially for maintaining laws that reinforce this kind of apathy (i.e. take care of your own business (pavement) laws). I guess it’s just a shame to see so many of the city’s beautiful old buildings either crumbling or covered in graffiti (or both). To see this first-hand you only have to pay a visit to the old centre of São Paulo (and that’s what I’ll be doing in my next post), but for now I’m off to Buenos Aires for the week. Tchau.